Awards, People, Research, Science & environment

White House honors chemists Hoffman, Somorjai with Enrico Fermi Award

Darleane Hoffman, known for her work on transuranic elements, and Gabor Somorjai, known for contributions to surface chemistry, were this year's sole recipients of the Fermi Award

side-by-side portraits of Hoffman and Somorjai

Nuclear chemist Darleane Hoffman and surface chemist Gabor Somorjai received the Enrico Fermi Award from President Biden and Vice-President Harris for their pioneering work.

The Biden Administration today (Tuesday, March 28) named Darleane C. Hoffman and Gabor A. Somorjai as recipients of the Enrico Fermi Presidential Award, one of the oldest and most prestigious science and technology honors bestowed by the U.S. government.

“Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Somorjai’s work to open the frontiers of radiochemistry and surface chemistry helped change what was possible, and advanced efforts to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges,” said Arati Prabhakar, assistant to the President and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “They are world-class innovators and an inspiration to future generations of scientists, and I congratulate each of them for a lifetime of achievement.”

“It is an honor to be able to recognize the outstanding achievements of Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Somorjai,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. “Their commitment to pushing the boundaries of science is not only inspiring, but will help us respond to the big challenges we anticipate in the future. We need leaders of this kind to provide the scientific foundation for the next generation.”

Hoffman, UC Berkeley professor emerita of chemistry and former faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), is a nuclear chemist known for the study of transuranic elements — quickly decaying elements that are heavier than uranium. In 1993, she was among a group of researchers who confirmed the existence of a new element, seaborgium 106, and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1997.

Hoffman, 96, is recognized with the Fermi Award for scientific discoveries advancing the field of nuclear and radiochemistry, for distinguished service to the Department of Energy’s missions in national security and nuclear waste management, and for sustained leadership in radiochemistry research and education.

Somorjai, a University Professor in Berkeley’s College of Chemistry and former faculty senior scientist at Berkeley Lab, conducted research that has advanced surface chemistry important for energy and clean water, in addition to a range of other contributions. He has been a leader in catalysis for more than 50 years and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2001.

Somorjai, 87, is recognized with the Fermi Award for key contributions in molecular studies of surfaces through the use of single crystals, the development of techniques for quantitative determinations of surface structure, and establishing the molecular foundations of heterogeneous metal catalysis.

The Enrico Fermi Presidential Award was established in 1956 as a memorial to the legacy of Enrico Fermi, an Italian-born naturalized American citizen and 1938 Nobel laureate in physics who achieved the first nuclear chain reaction in 1942. It is given to encourage excellence in research in energy science and technology benefiting humanity; recognize scientists, engineers and science policymakers who have given unstintingly over their careers to advance energy science and technology; and inspire people of all ages through the examples of Fermi, and the Fermi Award laureates who followed in his footsteps, to explore new scientific and technological horizons.

Winners receive a citation signed by the President and the Secretary of Energy, a gold-plated medal bearing the likeness of Enrico Fermi, and an honorarium of $100,000. In the event the award is given to more than one individual in the same year, the recipients share the honorarium equally. The Fermi Award is administered on behalf of the White House by the U.S. Department of Energy.